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Juneteenth: Why Honoring Black Culture in the Workplace Is Important

June 17, 2021

For so many years, United States holidays and observances were limited to only celebrate white historical events. For instance, our nation and corporations have celebrated and observed Independence Day — commemorating freedom, liberty and independence. However, for Black people in America, freedom was delayed.

Juneteenth (June 19th) commemorates the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved African Americans in the United States. Although technically freed more than two years prior, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, were not aware of their freedom. Today, the holiday focuses on Black freedom and achievement and invites reflection, self-development and respect from all cultures.

Recognizing Juneteenth in the workplace is an important step corporations can take to honor the past and practice inclusion now and in the future.

In the past year, many corporations, as part of their efforts to strengthen their support for employees and advance diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), have begun to formally recognize Juneteenth. However, studies show that despite a nearly 19% increase in awareness of Juneteenth following the tragic murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor in 2020, nearly a quarter of American adults still aren’t familiar with the day or what it means.

For employers, this is an opportunity to inform and educate in ways that support greater understanding and inclusion. If recognizing Juneteenth aligns with your values and connects to your company’s DE&I strategy, consider the following actions to commemorate Juneteenth across your organization:

Create Space for Employees.

Unlike other celebratory observances, for the Black community, Juneteenth represents freedom from one of the most reprehensible times in our nation’s history. Creating space for reflection and healing is the best practice employers can implement. Examples of this may include:

  • Offering the day as a paid holiday
  • Activating optional programming that educates and engages employees
  • Providing resources for continued education, allyship and connection across the company
  • Using employee resource groups (ERGs) as a conduit for engaging discussions and listening sessions

Encourage Leadership to Amplify Black Voices from Within.

While corporate CEOs and leaders are expected to advocate as activists nowadays, Juneteenth presents a great opportunity for leaders to use their influence to amplify voices with lived experience. To avoid appearing performative on employee intranets, all-hands messaging and social media posts, leaders should spark conversations and uplift the proper voices from within after engaging with the individuals personally. Ways to do this include:

  • Sharing joint video messages featuring the CEO and employee resource group lead
  • Giving your DE&I leadership team authorship in your Juneteenth communications
  • Leveraging Black leadership’s expertise across corporate channels
  • Highlighting employee reflections to commemorate the day

Do the Work Internally.

Keep in mind that pay equity is top of mind for Black employees on Juneteenth and similar moments. Are there systemic barriers in place that need to be dismantled within your company? Have tough conversations and communicate with employees openly and honestly — taking a close look at your talent mix, Black representation in leadership and efforts to address imbalances. Consider:

  • Assessing wealth gaps in salary, bonuses and benefits offered to employees
  • Creating a career advancement or development program for current and potential diverse talent
  • Introducing bias training for hiring managers
  • Practicing inclusive language across workstreams

Clarify Community Commitments.

If your organization has designated commitments to the Black community or taken a stance on anti-racism, this Juneteenth plan to provide an update on how you’re tracking. Other ways to support the Black community during Juneteenth include:

  • Considering whether your company will be a catalyst for driving forward causes, such as reparations and voting rights
  • Giving to supportive organizations with corporate or matched donations
  • Hosting a volunteer or fundraising event for a Black organization
  • Providing employees with a list of local Juneteenth events and Black-owned businesses to support

Keep the Momentum Going.

Juneteenth is a moment in time, but employers’ commitment to inclusivity should be viewed as a never-ending imperative. Employers can do so by:

  • Developing an ongoing content series celebrating Black colleagues
  • Offering annual leader cascades with team plans for commemorating Juneteenth each year
  • Providing ongoing resources for continued education, mental health support and allyship across the company

As DE&I work continues beyond Juneteenth, it’s important to aspire to achieve progress rather than perfection.

FleishmanHillard’s Talent + Transformation practice helps employers attract and engage diverse employees and align them with business strategy. This article was written in collaboration with our True MOSAIC practice, a community of expert counselors whose diversity of lived and professional experiences reflects the multidimensional world we live in.